Harvard Square Businesses and Performers Celebrate Oktoberfest

Visitors crowd Harvard Square for Sunday's Oktoberfest celebration.
Colorful costumes, honking horns, and sizzling street food greeted pedestrians in Harvard Square Sunday as part of this year’s Harvard Square Oktoberfest celebration.

The 39th such celebration, this year’s festival also featured 27 “Honk!” bands, groups of costumed musicians playing genres from samba to punk to hip-hop. According to the group’s website, the “activist bands” feature an “irresistible spectacle of creative movement and sonic self-expression directed at making the world a better place.”

One such group, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, took to a temporary stage in front of the Harvard Square T stop clad in green. They sported signs and instruments emblazoned with slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “End White Supremacy.”

While the "Honk!" bands played, various vendors sold refreshments and merchandise as part of the fair.

Denise A. Jillson, Executive Director of the Harvard Square Business Association, has been involved in planning for Oktoberfest for 11 years.

“I love the bands, love the music, love the parade, love all of the vendors and the different artisans that are here,” Jillson said. “It’s a great community day that brings in communities from around the region together to celebrate everything that’s good about life.”

Kari Kuelzer, the manager of Grendel's Den Restaurant & Bar on Winthrop St., agreed.

“My favorite part of Oktoberfest is probably the impromptu Honk performances all over the place, sort of as the festival wears down,” Kuelzer said. “They’re coming from all over the place, so the diversity and worldliness of them is really exciting to see.”

Kuelzer’s restaurant offered German-themed food and drinks, served by staff in Bavarian attire. Kuelzer said Oktoberfest started as a small street fair with beer gardens.

“It got a little bit drinky at some point, so they took the beer out of the festival,” she said. “After about two decades of it being just a sausage and knick-knack fair, they [Harvard Square Business Association] brought the beer gardens back in.”

Around the same time, the Honkfest joined the festivities.

“[This] has been a big change to the fair, because now we do it during the same weekend as the Honkfest, which is city-wide, and they come through and do a parade through Harvard Square, and Oktoberfest is sort of the capstone to their weekend event,” Kuelzer said.

Over the years, many new vendors have participated in Oktoberfest.

Esmeralda Lambert, who owns Church St. jewelry shop Esmeralda Jewelry, Accessories & Gifts, has been a vendor at Oktoberfest for three years.

“The type of customer that comes here to Oktoberfest is somebody that cares where things are coming from. They care about supporting small businesses,” Lambert said. “We love it here—the type of clientele.”

Jillson said those interested in future Oktoberfests should “try everything.”

“They should walk from one end of the Square to the other, because around every corner there’ll be something unique and different and fun and fabulous so that’s really the thing to do.”


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